Team builders take the plunge
BUSINESS teams could be plunging 15 ft into a raging, storm-tossed “sea” in a Force 6 gale as part of the latest team-building craze. Lowestoft College's Centre for Maritime and Offshore Technology is opening up a facility which has traditionally been used by offshore oil and gas workers, rescue services and members of the American air force to prepare them for the cold realities of abandoning ship.
BUSINESS teams could be plunging 15 ft into a raging, storm-tossed “sea” in a Force 6 gale as part of the latest team-building craze.
Lowestoft College's Centre for Maritime and Offshore Technology is opening up a facility which has traditionally been used by offshore oil and gas workers, rescue services and members of the American air force to prepare them for the cold realities of abandoning ship.
At the centre's environmental tank - a large, specialised pool - participants experience a simulated storm, similar to what they would face in the North Sea.
They help each other to the life raft, where they are tossed about - sometimes for several hours - in pouring rain, buffeted by mountainous waves.
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As darkness falls and rain comes down in torrents, they come face-to-face with their inner demons, and the conditions they must battle if caught in a storm.
It may be no picnic, but the centre says businesses are showing interest in the concept.
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A team from Barclays has already participated in one such event, which can also include other survival exercises using speed boats on the Broads, and the company is keen to try it out later in the year.
The Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors is also planning to take the plunge.
Despite all the specialised equipment and trained staff involved, the price tag for such an event is relatively cheap at around £500 to £800 for a day, depending on what companies want to do.
The reason for the competitive prices is that the specialised facility, one of only a few throughout the country, is not used to anywhere near its capacity, explains Ian McLean, who is head of commercial services at the college.
“It's very under-used at the moment. We are looking at new markets. It has been used primarily for the offshore oil and gas industry,” he says.
“The environmental tank is one area we are looking to develop, certainly into the corporate area.”
The tank is just one of a range of highly specialised areas within the centre, which users must treat in the same way as if they were on board ship. The building also holds a bridge simulator which attracts shipping industry trainees from all over the world, and the centre also offers training in dynamic positioning, again for maritime staff.
Mr McLean, who has tried out the tank for himself, describes it as a “unique” experience.
“Actually, it's very, very real. I have done it a few times myself,” he says.
Many fail to realise that Lowestoft has some of the most up-to-date maritime training equipment in the country, and that it was one of the pioneers in the use of the tank, he says.
Despite the gruelling conditions, he says it is fun to participate in the exercise, although the US air force personnel can be left in for some hours to acclimatise them to the conditions, and leave feeling somewhat green about the gills.
“It's an unusual team-building event,” he says. “You can't experience anything like it.”
At the moment, the facilities are not strongly marketed, although other possible areas of expansion the college is looking at includes training for groups such as canoe and yacht clubs.
“It's a very, very controlled environment, but it's very realistic with what we've got there,” says Mr McLean.
“We simulate an emergency. You go up onto the platform. You have to jump 15ft down into the water, into the waves, with the rain and the darkness. We have a life raft in the middle you have to get into. Normally, about two hours in the tank is enough for most people.”
Each of the courses can be tailored according to the needs of individual clients, he says, and can lead to formal qualifications if required, although many may be happy to think of it as a fun outing.
“You really do have to work as a team in there - if not, you just leave someone to sink. It's a good way of team building.
“It's more actually getting people together and breaking down barriers and people getting their hair wet,” he says.
“It's a fun sort of thing to do, even though it is quite testing at times.”